Conflict in Mexico’s Heroin Heartland as Self-Defense Groups Cry ‘Narco’

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Two self-defense groups in Mexico’s troubled state of Guerrero have accused each other of involvement in organized crime, illustrating the complexity of the criminal landscape in the country’s heroin epicenter.

The Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Union de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero – UPOEG) and the United Front for the Security and Development of the State of Guerrero (Frente Unido por la Seguridad y Desarrollo del Estado de Guerrero – FUSDEG) have long been rivals in the southern state, but their relationship is in its “tensest moments yet” according to the newspaper Milenio.

The two groups are allegedly fighting over control of part of the federal highway 95, also known as the Heroin Highway, which connects the violent seaside resort town of Acapulco with the state capital Chilpancingo, and eventually, Mexico City. Both groups maintain checkpoints along the part of the highway that runs between Petaquillas and Xaltianguis, Milenio reports.

Bruno Plácido, one of the leaders of the UPOEG, claims the FUSDEG is pushing for members of the Ardillos drug gang — which wields considerable power in the state — to be installed in seats in community assemblies that control some towns.

Salvador Alanís, head of the FUSDEG, says that the UPOEG have formed their own cartel called Sur Sierra Unida (Southern Sierra United), dedicated to the production of poppy. The FUSDEG leader says the rival group maintains links to the Familia Michoacana and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation.

Guerrero’s governor Héctor Astudillo Flores signaled in late October that the growing conflict between the two groups (frequently blamed for gun battles and deaths in different points around the state) could develop into a security issue that might require state intervention, but he was vague about when and how that might take place.

“The governor should, of course, have the timing to understand when to act, and I think there are two routes,” he said in comments reported by Prensa Libre.

Astudillo said one route involved “peace through dialogue to control the passions, resentments and disputes and to stop the generation of more violence.”

The other, he said, “is the issue of disarmament…[a route] which requires much prudence and responsibility.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The conflict between the two armed groups — former allies supposedly dedicated to the protection of Guerrero’s beleaguered communities — shows how all social actors are impacted by the lawlessness, criminality and impunity that characterizes one of Mexico’s most violent states.

More than half of all of the heroin produced in Mexico is produced in the mountains of Guerrero, much of it in clandestine “gardens” tended by humble farmers with few other options. As the heroin market in the United States has boomed, so has the heroin business in Guerrero, and estimates of the number of criminal groups vying for a share have been as high as 50. It is hard for even the most well-meaning of organizations to resist the forces unleashed by such market forces. Astudillo has even suggested legalizing the state’s poppy trade as a means of bringing down the violence and corruption that has plagued it for years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mexico’s Vigilantes

The mass kidnapping of 43 students from the rural teacher’s school of Ayotzinapa from the small city of Iguala more than two years ago drew condemnation from around the world, but it was just the most high-profile example of the sorts of murders and disappearances that happen on a nearly daily basis in Guerrero at the hands of criminal groups and corrupt officials.

If indeed the self-defense groups are working in collaboration with other criminal gangs, or producing and trafficking poppy and its derivatives themselves, then they may be simply following a cynical trend that is unlikely to be reversed without a drop in US demand for the illicit substances linked to much of the region’s violence.

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